31: Booster Shot Debate

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer and ASTHO President-elect, considers the potential for COVID-19 booster shots for some populations; Nick Porter, ASTHO’s Director for Environmental Health, explains how members can benefit from a new...

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Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer and ASTHO President-elect, considers the potential for COVID-19 booster shots for some populations; Nick Porter, ASTHO’s Director for Environmental Health, explains how members can benefit from a new dashboard; ASTHO has fresh job openings; and a blog article provides samples of legislation expanding access to Naloxone to prevent opioid overdoses.

CDC Webpage: Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices

ASTHO Resource: Environmental health programs and services portal

ASTHO Webpage: Careers at ASTHO

ASTHO Blog Article: Increasing Naloxone accessibility to prevent opioid overdoses

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson. Here's today's news from the association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



Dr. Cone, yes; Dr. Portnoy, yes; Dr. Lee, yes.


FDA experts unanimous in their recommendation of COVID-19 booster shots for people over 65 and those in high-risk groups. Today and tomorrow, another meeting, this time with members of a CDC advisory committee considering the same questions.

Dr. Anne Zink is chief medical officer for the state of Alaska and ASTHO's president-elect. She's monitoring the discussion and offers her take in today's morning conversation.

What's your reaction to the news about booster shots only for high-risk groups?


I think my first reaction is that it's great to see the process working. We know that we live in a system of checks and balances between the FDA, the ACIP, federal government, state government, local governments. And so, seeing our highest risk individuals, we know that they have been and continue to be at highest risk for COVID-19 and excited to get it out. But really want to make sure that we're following the data and science. So, grateful for the checks and balances in our system moving forward.


How are you explaining this decision to people in Alaska? And what's been their reaction so far?


There have been a lot of great questions/ I think the combination between rolling out a three-dose series for immunocompromised people versus a booster dose has been very confusing to a lot of individuals overall.

So, I think it's been a challenge and continuing to provide ample opportunity to talk about the immune system and the ways that this works and how you need time as well as risk benefit. Again, I think that focusing on the fact that our system is designed for safety and efficacy is important, and emphasizing that factor, so it's given us more opportunities to explain that.

Overall, we talk about the risk benefit of the vaccines, of COVID in general, continue to see in our polling and data, as well as nationwide, just people's lack of fear of the virus but concern about the side effects of vaccination.

So, I think this gives us an opportunity to talk about how they're one of the safest, if not the safest, thing that we do in medicine, even safer than most over the counter medications. They're just incredibly well-studied, and they're incredibly safe in that process, and continue to emphasize that to the public.


Does this news impact your effort to get those initial shots into arms?


Our effort continues to be focused on those first dose vaccines for those who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

I think we see mixed reaction here in the state of Alaska. We see some that feel a renewed faith in the process with seeing the FDA go through its process, to decide just for high risk individuals rather than everyone as a whole. So, we're seeing some increased vaccine confidence about that.

I think the other side about that is a concern from healthcare workers or others who may be at risk, be it ethnic minorities, be it those who are exposed to COVID-19 on a regular basis like healthcare providers, and their concern and desire for boosters.

So, looking forward to ACIP's meeting later this week as well to see how they may weigh in, in that space. And I really think, and I'm hoping, that some permissive language in a very similar way that they used for the third shot, for a three shot series,  will be followed.

But we'll have to follow the ACIP, and appreciate their extraordinary task at hand and the time and effort that they're putting into reviewing the existing data to really promote the health and wellbeing of everyone in this country.



A new dashboard for environmental health teams is now online. It pulls together the location of environmental health services, programs, and activities, grouping them into 21 categories, giving users quick access to data that can help them in their jobs.

Nick Porter is director for environmental health at ASTHO.


Common questions that we get from our members are asking kind of how other states perform certain programs or services or activities. So, it's very helpful to know who does similar work within their state or territorial health agency.

So, for example, if there are tools or topic areas where the health department wants to, or needs to, develop guidance, documents, tools, webinars, or communications tools about a specific issue, you know, they can reach out to someone at a health department in another jurisdiction working on that same topic area to seek advice, input, or tools that they've developed to help guide the health department staff as they move forward.



Also today, people searching for a new career in public health can find up to date listings for open positions on ASTHO's careers webpage. The organization is hiring a director of evaluation and assessment, a coordinator of leadership and organizational performance, and a director of maternal and infant health.

Find the link to these and other available positions in the show notes.


Finally this morning, many states and territories are working to increase accessibility to naloxone to prevent opioid overdoses.

ASTHO writes about those activities in a blog article that includes several links to examples of legislation expanding naloxone access.


Find a link to the article, along with links to other resources mentioned today, in the show notes.


Also, remember to follow us on apple podcasts or Spotify, or listen on Alexa or Google assistant.

And, if you have a minute, please take time to leave us a rating and a review.


Join us tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.

Nicholas Porter MPH

Senior Analyst, Environmental Health, ASTHO

Anne Zink MD FACEP

Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska